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Discipline vs. Life Experience: The Paper Cut

November 4, 2013

It was 8 o’clock on Friday night.

The house had finally quieted, the rumble of feet across wood floors waning with the fading light outside the windows. Two damp heads smelling of green-apple shampoo and toothpaste had been read to, kissed, and tucked into bed.

Gabe and I had sunk deep into the leather couch with a sigh, surrounded by the detritus of the evening – loose papers and LEGOs, crayons, three stray socks and the wrappers from the Halloween candy they had eaten for dessert.

We were ready for our solitary hour of television before we both began to doze, like aging grandparents, exhausted by this small tribe.

And then, from the other end of the house, a wail. As is our habit, we didn’t flinch, we waited.

The wail could be the result of many things.

I’ve dropped my tooth brush in the toilet!

I just got water on my favorite blankie!

I broke my favorite somethingorother and it will never, never be the same again!

I’ve cut off my leg! (In such case, the wails would continue and probably increase in volume and hysteria. So we wait.)

The wail began to approach, and we straightened up, curious as to the infirmity and severity.

I got a paper cut! A paper cut!

My six-year-old, bare-chested and clad in flannel pajamas, is holding both hands in front of him. The palm of one clutched in the other, where a teeny, tiny, itty, bitty red streak had appeared and was gushing rivers of blood. (Or so he perceived.)

Ah yes, the paper cut. Tiny and terrible.

How did you get a paper cut? I asked him, wondering what he had been up to so quickly after we had turned out the light.

I don’t know! It just happened! Owwwwww!

I made sympathetic noises and herded him back to the bathroom for a magical, mystical Band-aid cure and Neosporin. His wails continued.

It stinggggggsss!

I continued to cluck and pat with sympathy. As we walked into the bathroom, the pile of dishes Gabe had washed up after dinner were on the counter, drying. (Note previous rants about kitchen remodel.) A steak knife was askew on the towel, pointed out, instead of inward as we would normally leave a knife.

My dimpled darling looks up at me without a scosche of tears, blue eyes wide, and loudly declares. “I didn’t touch that knife!”

I started to laugh. I couldn’t help it. His eyebrows had climbed into his hairline, he was trying so hard to look truthful.

I knelt down to his level.

Darling, you don’t have to lie to Mommy. It’s never okay to lie, even when you’re afraid of getting in trouble. I know what you did and I am not angry. You’ve already gotten a consequence, haven’t you?

He started sobbing again.


Honey, what did you learn today?

I learned not to play with knives! He buried his face in my shirt, cowed by remorse and the persistent sting of this tiny life experience. He won’t forget this lesson, not anytime soon.

I was probably the same age when I was exploring my parents’ bathroom closet. I remember with perfect clarity running the pad of my thumb over the disposable razor, feeling nothing at first but watching in fascination as two slits appeared in my skin, at once filling with a dark, thick red and then the sting and my own horror.

If a paper-cut sized consequence is what it takes my cherub to learn that lesson for himself, I’m okay with that. That’s a lesson he’s learned far more effectively than just listening to his mama!


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4 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2013 1:20 pm

    There is value in lessons learned the hard way for young children. Hopefully, they realize sooner than later that you are not on a power trip, telling them what to do and not do, but rather you are sharing life’s hard learned lessons. The bright ones figure that out sooner.

    • November 4, 2013 1:41 pm

      My husband calls this “controlled failure” (a term taken from his semiconductor lab days) and we are firm believers that showing and experiencing are far better teachers than telling and hearing! I’d rather them make little mistakes now, small ones that I can still fit a band-aid over, than much bigger, larger ones later. The kind that a band-aid won’t fix!

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